FuseWill Drop 'Pants'

In an effort to rebrand itself as the home for all things music, Fuse is lighting up two U.K.-produced original music series and undressing its staple program, Pants-Off Dance-Off.

Seven months into his tenure as Fuse's president, Eric Sherman is taking the Cablevision Systems-owned channel back to its musical roots by offering a mix of original and acquired music fare, such as the British music-related interview series Planet Rock, and by scrapping off-brand reality shows such as the iconic Pants-Off Dance-Off, in which people strip on-air to their favorite songs.

“With Fuse, music is in the DNA of everything we do,” he said. “Over the last year or so we might have strayed from that a little bit, but our focus moving forward is to strengthen our commitment to music going forward.”

The four-year-old Fuse, which averaged an anemic 0.1 primetime household rating and 41,000 viewers during third-quarter 2007, hopes to bolster ratings by filling a video music niche left by MTV and VH1 as both services over the years have successfully incorporated more reality and celebreality content like The Real World and Flavor of Love into their respective schedules.

“We hear from consumers that they want music on television,” said Sherman, a former VH1 and MTV executive who actually lauded his former networks' programming strategy. “There's plenty of appetite for music on television and right now nobody owns it.”

As part of its scheduling makeover, Fuse recently acquired two British-produced shows that began airing this month: Later … With Jools Holland, featuring live music performances from such bands as Green Day, Foo Fighters, Coldplay and Amy Winehouse; and Planet Rock, a music profile series focusing on such artists as Def Leppard, Foo Fighters, Alicia Keys, R.E.M and Green Day.

On Nov. 26 the network will also debut an original series, Videos That Rocked the World, over ten consecutive days. The series, the first original show green-lit by Sherman, will explore the legacy of 10 music videos — including Madonna's “Like a Prayer” and Run DMC's “Walk This Way” — including the stories behind each video, as well as their cultural impact.

Sherman added that the network has six or seven other original series that it will debut within the next year, although he would not reveal specific titles. “We'll hit every type of television format from reality to documentary to countdown, but all of them will have music at its core,” he said.

But the new-look Fuse will move on without some of its current programming mainstays, including arguably its most popular series, Pants-Off Dance-Off. Sherman said the three-year-old series — which has generated more press coverage and interest due to what participants take off, rather what they dance to — doesn't fit the network's on-air music-oriented strategy. It will live on the network's Web site, fuse.tv. Fuse will keep the show on the air at least through February 2008 and then create original episodes for the Web.

“Creatively, Pants-Off Dance-Off isn't where we going to go with the network, but from an awareness and multiplatform standpoint, that's a franchise that works well on television and it works well on mobile and the Web,” he said.

The network will also jettison its reality series Rad Girls after one season. Fuse this summer also moved its skit comedy series Whitest Kids You Know to sister service IFC, but will add interview/music performance series The Henry Rollins Show from the independent film-oriented network.

Sherman hopes the music-only strategy will sound the right tone for its core 12-to-34-year old audience.

“We're going to be doing a lot between now and early 2008, in terms of reshaping the channel, but as a brand Fuse needs to stand for music wholeheartedly,” he said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.